Download PDF version

COVID-19 dominated the headlines in 2020, and it had a profound impact on the fire industry. TheBigRedGuide.com published many articles about the pandemic and its impact, some of which were among the most-read articles of the year. This retrospective will highlight some of those pandemic-related articles, including links to the original content.  The Fire Industry Association (FIA) in the United Kingdom published a survey report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey, conducted by FIA, sought to gain a greater understanding of how organizations have been impacted by COVID-19 and of the impact on the wider fire industry now and in the future. Resilience is a recurring theme in the FIA report. At the time of the survey (when the United Kingdom was just past the coronavirus peak), a total of 81% of respondents expected they could continue operating under current circumstances for three months or more.

rapidly-spreading virus

Roughly a fourth expected their business could continue for six months (23.4%), and another quarter of respondents expected they could last a year (23.4%). First responders were on the front lines of the latest COVID-19 health crisis. Around the United States - and around the world - EMS departments faced the uncertainties of a rapidly-spreading virus. One early problem was a shortage of face masks. As cases surged, it was also harder for ambulance companies to get other needed supplies.

Around the United States - and around the world - EMS departments faced the uncertainties of a rapidly-spreading virus

In King County, Wash., an early epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Kirkland, Wash., firefighters and Kirkland police officers were placed under quarantine after an outbreak at a senior care facility. Firefighters were either quarantined at home or at a local fire station. Fire stations are unique environments with conditions that could be conducive to the spread of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19.

municipal fire departments

Firefighters live in close quarters for 24-hour shifts, and then return home to their families. Reports about “hot” firehouses have helped to emphasize the need to follow best practices to avoid the spread of the disease. The Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) compiled a list of guidelines that departments can put into practice to reduce and/or avoid cross-contamination of on-duty staff.

Among other impacts on the fire industry, the COVID-19 global pandemic played havoc with the industry’s trade show schedule, with major events canceled or delayed. County and municipal fire departments were impacted as local governments respond to the COVID-19-induced economic downturn with spending freezes, hiring freezes and spending cuts. Some local governments are hoping for help from the state and/or federal level.

address economic downturns

Although some governments have “rainy day funds” to address economic downturns, not all of them do. Furthermore, the extent of the current economic crisis may exceed our worst fears. Proposed budget cuts for some fire and EMS departments are in the 10% to 25% range. A consequence of the coronavirus shutdown was cancellation of hundreds of volunteer fire department fundraisers across the United States - from fish fries to bingo to hog roasts to chicken barbecues.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward working from home accelerated

No more carnivals or spaghetti suppers or gun raffles. And departments lost thousands of dollars. Firefighters are used to wearing protective gear, but one U.S. locale exempted first responders from adhering to a mask mandate to address coronavirus risks. The City Council of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, proposed an amendment to exempt first responders from complying with the city’s face mask ordinance.

ensure social distancing

Specifically, the proposed amendment states, “Exempted from the requirements of the ordinance requiring wearing of face coverings include law enforcement personnel, first responders or other workers, who are actively engaged in their tasks, if wearing a face covering may hinder their performance.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward working from home accelerated.

New technologies made it possible for 911 dispatchers to work from home, whether to ensure social distancing or to supplement operations during evolving emergencies. The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems offer web-based interfaces and mobile capabilities that enable public-safety answering point (PSAP) operators to work from anywhere. Other technologies that are paving the way for dispatchers to work from home include the cloud, virtual private networks (VPNs), and faster data speeds.

blocking firefighter access

Adapting workspaces to operate safely during a pandemic presents complications, not least of which is making sure that the measures taken to protect employees from infection do not undermine fire safety. In the course of altering a building to prevent infection spread, there are risks of introducing new life safety hazards and compromising emergency preparedness.

It is also important to avoid blocking firefighter access and facilities

As buildings adapt to new occupancy standards and requirements, it is critical that any protective measures do not interfere with operation of life safety systems. Might temporary partitions or barriers block escape routes during a fire emergency? Social distancing measures might entail blocking emergency exists and disrupting the flow of occupants looking to vacate a building. It is also important to avoid blocking firefighter access and facilities.

career options

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting every aspect of our business lives. But buried among the disruption was an opportunity. Newly idled workers could see this as an opportune time for training to expand their career options. Meanwhile, employees still on the job may find that a cancelled or postponed project means they have time on their hands. Training can enable them to make the most of that time.

In-person training has come to a halt, of course, because of social distancing requirements. Filling the gap are new online learning opportunities.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, TheBigRedGuide.com, Notting Hill Media

In case you missed it

Need For Wearable Technology In Mission-Critical Environments
Need For Wearable Technology In Mission-Critical Environments

The front line fire and rescue teams have had their hands full during the pandemic, more so than one might think. In the UK, for instance, fire and rescue teams attended more than half a million incidents throughout 2020, with more than 150,000 of them regarded as serious fires. Across the Atlantic, the US Fire Administration has reported 42 firefighter fatalities so far this year, despite swathes of the country still being in lockdown as the vaccine rollout continues to pick up the pace. These figures are down on previous years, but only by a very slight margin. firefighters work Endlessly  Despite much of society going into a form of hibernation to protect themselves and loved ones from the spread of COVID-19, firefighters are among the many frontline workers still putting their lives on the line to keep us safe, and their job hasn’t changed. If anything, they’ve been exposed to even more risk than usual in carrying out their frontline duty, from putting our fires at homes and businesses to maintaining a presence at protests. Put simply, the firefighters are putting themselves at risk every day. Attention has therefore turned to ways everyone can mitigate that risk and keep the front-line workers safe, such as hands-free critical communications equipment and protective gear. Those on the front line have been considering these technologies very carefully since the beginning of the pandemic, re-evaluating how they can best be used to facilitate social distancing and reduce contact without compromising on mission-critical activities. protective, wearable technology ‘Smart PPE’ is a new generation of protective, wearable technology that can keep front-line workers safe, connected They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that certainly holds in this instance. The rise of so-called ‘smart PPE’ represents a new generation of protective, wearable technology that can keep the front-line workers safe, connected, and mobile - all vital prerequisites to a team of fast-moving firefighters during a global pandemic. Seamless mission-critical communication All front-line workers need to be able to maintain contact with one another during busy shifts whilst also staying safe and keeping their distance from one another to limit the spread of the virus. That’s as true for nurses as it is for warehouse staff. However, mission-critical front-line workers such as paramedics, police officers, and firefighters frequently find themselves in noisy, hazardous environments that require fast movement and near-instant reaction times. Smart PPE Firefighters in particular can rarely afford the time to handle a hands-on radio unit or interface with buttons and switches to get a message across to their colleagues. They need to be able to speak to their colleagues on the other side of a burning building or across a crowd of people as if they were in the same room together, without the need to handle any additional equipment or touch surfaces unnecessarily. Doing so slows them down and could increase their chances of catching COVID-19. That’s where Smart PPE comes in.  Smart PPE is a future-proof approach to mission-critical comms that combines protective gear like helmets, visors, and overalls with wearable technology Cardo Crew Pro-1 Smart PPE is a future-proof approach to mission-critical comms that combines protective gear like helmets, visors, and overalls with wearable technology. This technology can be manufactured into the PPE from the beginning, or retrofitted into existing equipment to gain the same effect. Take the Cardo Crew Pro-1 for instance. It’s a lightweight mesh communication module that fits inside equipment such as ear guards, helmets, and visors without compromising on comfort or safety. It’s designed specifically to allow PPE manufacturers themselves to integrate mission-critical comms technology into their equipment, massively increasing its value and usefulness to teams on the ground. Mesh communications technology It can be voice-activated, making it ideal for COVID-secure environments where contact should be minimum This kind of mission-critical, comms-enabled PPE is built on a technology known as ‘mesh communication’. While not a replacement for PMR or cellular communication altogether, a mesh-based intercom system is quickly becoming the technology of choice for small teams who need to exchange information quickly, reliably, and securely. One of the greatest advantages of wireless mesh communication is that it operates as a self-sufficient standalone network, with no need for a ‘base station’ and zero dependence on cellular reception. It can be voice-activated, making it perfect for COVID-secure work environments where contact should be kept to a minimum. It also enables two-way conversation at a range of up to 3,000 meters, making it ideal for busy front-line teams working in the field. Beyond emergency services Even with vaccine rollouts firmly underway, everyone is likely to be mindful of social distancing and reduced contact for some time yet, particularly as new variants of the virus emerge and people take their first tentative steps toward international travel. Therefore, there is a likeliness to see wireless mesh communication technology extend beyond frontline emergency services and into other environments such as hospitals, warehouses, factories, and anywhere that requires teams to communicate while maintaining social distancing and keeping contact to a minimum. Development of new technologies The surging popularity of wearable technology and mesh communications is likely to strengthen the relationship between PPE manufacturers and their customers, resulting in even more innovation in the PPE industry. Organizations such as fire and rescue teams will continue to push themselves to find new, forward-thinking ways of carrying out their duties safely - not only in a way that enables hands-free, COVID-safe working but in a way that allows them to stay in lockstep with their colleagues with minimal effort. The impact of COVID-19 on the fire industry has no doubt thrown up challenges, as it has with every frontline sector, but the response to those challenges has been overwhelmingly positive and the future of the industry will be better for it.

NFPA Metro Chiefs 2021 Annual Meeting
NFPA Metro Chiefs 2021 Annual Meeting

The Metropolitan “Metro” Fire Chiefs Association, a Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) held its 2021 annual meeting virtually on May 10, 2021. More than 85 Metro chiefs attended the meeting and elected the Association’s 2021-2022 officers and board members. The officers are: Chief Don Lombardi, President; West Metro Fire Protection District, Lakewood, Colo. Chief Robert Rocha, Vice President; Corpus Christi Fire Department, Corpus Christi, Tex. Chief Edward “Loy” Senter, Jr., Secretary; Chesterfield County Fire and EMS, Chesterfield County, Va. Chief Ernest Malone, Treasurer; Indianapolis Fire Department, Indianapolis, Ind. The new board members are: Chief John Butler, Board Member; Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Fairfax County, Va. Chief (retired) Dr. Denis Onieal, re-elected as the Senior Board Member for a second year; Jersey City Fire Department, Jersey City, N.J. Chief Trisha Wolford, alternate board member; Anne Arundel County Fire Department, Anne Arundel County, Md. Chief John Lane, immediate past president; Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, Winnipeg, Man., Canada Outgoing Metro Board Member Chief Mike Duyck issued the oath of office to the new officers and board members. The Metro Chiefs bestowed the following 2021 Metro Awards and Honors: Chief Mary Cameli of the Mesa (Ariz.) Fire & Medical Department was named Fire Chief of the Year. Chief (retired) Mike Duyck, Tualatin Valley (Ore.) Fire & Rescue, received the Russell E. Sanders Lifetime Achievement Award. Motions of Interest 2023 and 2024 Metro Conferences will be hosted by the Columbus (Ohio) Division of Fire and the Tulsa (Okla.) Acting USFA Administrator Chief Tonya Hoover, NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley, Acting IAFC President and Chair of the Board Chief Ken Stuebing, and IAFC CEO and Executive Director Chief Rob Brown addressed the membership.  Motions of interest include the endorsement of Chief John Butler for the position of 2nd Vice President of the IAFC, and donations to the Canadian Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation, the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, and the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation. Program Presentations A comprehensive education program is traditionally held in conjunction with the annual business meeting, but due to the pandemic, the 2021 Metro Education Program will be presented virtually. The education program will include six, one-hour presentations delivered by a distinguished group of international experts both from within and external to the fire service. The program, which will begin on June 10, 2012, and will conclude on July 15, 2021, will focus on three major themes: COVID-19, DEI, and Labor/Management Relations. The COVID-19 presentations will address Research – Scope and Intent, Best Practices/Lessons Learned, and Economics. The DEI presentation will address Intent vs. Perception, Unintended Bias, and Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). The final series of presentations will include updates from the Secretary of the DHS, the FEMA and USFA Administrators, and a live discussion with IAFF General President Ed Kelly and Metro President Chief Don Lombardi. This final presentation will include both chiefs and local union presidents and will include a variety of topics including Building Strong Labor/Management Relations at all Levels, the Long-Term Impact of COVID-19, Dwindling Revenues, and more.  Thank you note A special thank you to Metro President Chief John Lane and the entire Metro Executive Board for providing outstanding leadership during a time of unprecedented challenges. The 2022 Metro conference will be hosted by Chief Gina Sweat and the Memphis Fire Department. The conference is scheduled for May 14-19. The 2023 and 2024 Metro Conferences will be hosted by the Columbus (Ohio) Division of Fire and the Tulsa (Okla.) Fire Departments respectively. The Metropolitan Fire Chiefs (Metro) Association brings together fire chiefs from large metropolitan fire departments to share information and focus on major issues affecting policy changes in the U.S. and abroad. Its members belong to the IAFC and NFPA and are the fire chiefs of jurisdictions with minimum staffing of 350 fully paid career firefighters.

Fire Sprinkler Failures In Buildings: Why They Happen & What To Do
Fire Sprinkler Failures In Buildings: Why They Happen & What To Do

The fire sprinkler system in your building is a critical safety measure and, when needed, it can save lives. Still, even the best systems can malfunction, and sprinklers do occasionally fail. When they do, they can drench the interior of your building, damaging everything from furniture and personal belongings to drywall and building materials. As a property manager, dealing with fire sprinkler failure can feel overwhelming. What do you do next? Where do you start? And why did the sprinkler system fail in the first place? In this post, we’ll discuss the common causes of accidental discharge, and what to do if it happens to you. Reasons for Fire Sprinkler Systems Failure Today, all building fire sprinkler systems must meet NFPA 13 standards. These National Fire Protection Association benchmarks define safety requirements for components and installation, and help ensure that sprinkler systems are well maintained and ready to perform. Still, fire sprinkler systems can fail. Here are a few of the most common culprits: Aging parts Building renovations (collisions with construction equipment, displacement or disturbance, etc.) Incorrectly placed heating systems that activate sprinklers Vulnerable pipes that freeze and cause sprinkler heads to burst Corrosion Fire sprinkler malfunctions can be incredibly problematic, causing extensive damage to your building Regardless of what causes the sprinklers to discharge accidentally, fire sprinkler malfunctions can be incredibly problematic, causing extensive damage to your building and requiring costly repairs from a water damage repair contractor. 5 Things to do if Your Sprinklers Fail There are no flames in your building, but your sprinklers are soaking everything in sight. You have to move quickly to avoid even more damage. Stay calm and follow these five steps: Get everyone out Even if there’s not an active fire in the building, water poses its own set of dangers. To avoid problematic slip and fall conditions, get everyone out of the area immediately. Move them to a safe location outside the building, preferably one you’ve agreed on in a previously established evacuation plan. Shut off electrical equipment Water and electricity are a deadly combination. To avoid electrical shocks, shut off all nearby electrical equipment and appliances, and then, turn off the building’s main power supply, as you exit the building. Turn off the water main Instead of wasting time shutting off broken sprinkler heads individually, go to the building’s main water supply immediately and shut it off at the valve. This will stop all water flow and prevent additional water damage. Take photos of the scene Once it’s safe to re-enter the building, document the scene. Use your smartphone to take photos of broken sprinkler heads or anything else you believe may have caused the accidental discharge. Additionally, take photos of the damage the sprinklers caused to floors, walls, personal belongings, and more. These photos can help response specialists understand the cause of the malfunction and may streamline your insurance claims process. Contact a restoration specialist Even if your water damage looks minimal, you’ll need to contact a skilled water damage restoration expert, like the Chicago-based maintenance and service company, ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba.  Accidental sprinkler discharges soak drywall, destroy carpets and textiles, and lead to dangerous mold and mildew growth, which can happen just 24-48 hours after water exposure. Prevent worsening damage and the dangerous conditions by contacting a sprinkler repair specialist right away. Cleanup and water damage restoration services Using your documentation, your insurance company will work to determine the cause of the sprinkler failure Using your documentation, your insurance company will work to determine the cause of the sprinkler failure. This can be a lengthy process that takes weeks or even months. As that happens, your cleanup team will focus on providing water damage restoration services. Typically, fire sprinkler water damage involves ‘blackwater’- a dangerous mixture of sediments and other contaminants that leave behind an unpleasant smell and a film that can destroy belongings. To reclaim your space, the water damage restoration service will focus on extracting the remaining water, drying the space to prevent mold and mildew formation, and decontaminating all surfaces. This is a critical step that you can’t afford to rush. Work with the best water damage cleanup company you can find to ensure positive results. Protecting Your Sprinkler Systems in the Future While it’s impossible to completely avoid every accidental discharge, there are certain steps you can take to safeguard your sprinkler system. Proper maintenance, for example, allows you to avoid preventable issues that could lead to malfunction. You should also take care to keep all remodeling and construction work away from sprinkler heads and systems to avoid accidental damage. These are simple tips, but they can help keep your building and tenants safe and dry - both now and in the future.

vfd